Immune-Boosting Power of Beta-Glucan
Activating the communication and microbe-killing capabilities of macrophages is of paramount importance when confronting viral invaders, which may change their molecular identities in an effort to evade the body's natural immune protection system. Numerous
substances, including polysaccharides, lymphokines, and peptides, activate the defensive properties of macrophages. A polysaccharide called beta-glucan not only enhances macrophages ability to recognize and subdue microbial invaders, but also increases their ability to communicate with other cellular defenders of the immune system. These defenders, the immune T cells, subsequently initiate communications among a variety of immune system components, culminating in a cascade of events that amplify the immune response and ultimately overcome microbial invaders.
Korean researchers have demonstrated a direct anti-viral effect of beta-glucan against the influenza virus. Scientists exposed two groups of newborn pigs to the swine flu virus. Capable of infecting humans, it was a type of swine flu that notoriously prompted the US government to attempt the first nationwide flu vaccination program 30 years ago. This dramatic effort was spurred in part by the realization that another strain of swine flu may well have been responsible for the global devastation of the great flu pandemic of 1918, in which millions of people perished.
In this important experiment, one group of piglets received beta-glucan for three days before being infected with swine flu, while the other group received only a placebo for three days before infection with live virus. Objective evidence of swine flu infection in the lungs of piglets that had been infected, but not given beta-glucan, was significantly more severe than in the infected animals that had been pre-treated with beta-glucan.11
Furthermore, pigs that had been pre-treated with beta-glucan had significantly higher concentrations of natural disease-fighting substances, including interferon-gamma, in fluid obtained from the lungs within a week of infection. The researchers concluded that beta-glucan reduced signs of lung disease and the viral replication rate in the test subjects. These findings support the potential application of beta-glucan to prevent or treat influenza virus infection.11
In another experiment, scientists investigated the effects of beta-glucan against another viral challenge. Young piglets were exposed to porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus, and then disease-fighting white blood cells were removed and exposed to varying concentrations of beta-glucan. Beta-glucan increased the production of interferon-gamma in a dose-dependent manner, leading the scientists to conclude that soluble beta-glucan may enhance innate antiviral immunity.12
These experiments demonstrate beta-glucan's ability to dramatically improve innate immunity, particularly against potentially deadly viral infections.
While beta-glucan is found in several traditional folk remedies (including some Chinese mushrooms) that have been used for centuries to enhance immunity,13-16 these sources provide only limited amounts of the specific beta-glucan now known to provide powerful immune support. An old pharmaceutical preparation, Zymosan, was known to stimulate immunity as far back as the 1940s. Researchers at the Tulane University School of Medicine conducted dozens of studies of this substance, eventually isolating beta-glucan as its active ingredient. After the researchers modified this ingredient for ready ingestion, experimental evidence began to mount showing that beta-glucan is a highly effective immune system stimulator, activating defenses against both bacterial and viral organisms.17-21
Although beta-glucan is one of the most powerful biological response modifiers currently available in supplement form, not all beta-glucan supplements are created equal. As-yet-unpublished research, conducted at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, shows that a specially modified, yeast-derived form of beta-glucan dubbed beta-1,3-D-glucan is orally bioavailable and stimulates production of white blood cells in human bone marrow and spleen. Additionally, this proprietary form of beta-glucan has demonstrated superior ability to activate macrophages, neutrophils, and natural killer cells, effectively boosting immune function to confront threats ranging from radiation poisoning to tumors and infection.